Pairing The New York Pops with Broadway star Heather Headley brought out the best in each. The energy zipping between the orchestra’s music director Steven Reineke and Headley was palpable.
The program was a wonderful musical portrait of Headley. Reineke, and Headley’s accompanist and personal music director, Ron Colvard did not just support her but became “the wind beneath her wings.”
The audience was abuzz with anticipation as she took on, as her first number, the classic “Over the Rainbow,” her statement of her absolute confidence, adding her own bluesy flourishes to this standard.
Headley appeared on Broadway in Aida, The Lion King, Into the Woods and The Color Purple. She spoke of purposely avoiding Stephen Sondheim musicals because of the difficulty in getting through his very sophisticated music and lyrics, but belied this with a quietly powerful “Children Will Listen/No One is Alone” medley.
Her “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from The Lion King was a clarion call directed towards the adoring Carnegie Hall crowd of fans. From the same show, Reineke conducted his arrangement of “He Lives In You,” featuring spectacular drumming from The Pops’ percussion section.
Of the many songs she sang, three moments pushed her performance to extraordinary heights. She stepped away from her microphone and sang an a cappella Spiritual. The effect was electric and led to a long standing ovation. Her “stars medley” included a particularly beautiful rendition of Maxwell Anderson/Kurt Weill’s “Lost in the Stars,” that floated over Don Hart’s luminous arrangements. Her take on the Elton John standard, “Your Song,” despite purporting to be fearful of not meeting John’s standards, was rich and expressive. She had no reason to fear John.
The other guest on the program was Chris Mann, a veteran actor, singer and comedian in addition to partnering with Headley in the writing of several songs, including the moving “Because You Need Me” which he sang with her. He also joined her in a stirring “Amazing Grace”—powerfully arranged by William Ross—accompanied by the small chorus of twelve directed by Christopher Dilley. Although “Amazing Grace” has become a bit of a cliché, all involved made it sound fresh and meaningful.
Mann, who toured in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, sang “Music of the Night” in a plaintive tenor.
Even after singing 13 challenging numbers, Headley managed an encore, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” the Whitney Houston anthem. She pranced, jumped, ran and flung herself about, getting this Pops audience to stand up and sing and dance with her.
What a perfect ending to one of The New York Pops’ finest showings.
One Night Only: An Evening with Heather Headley and The New York Pops (February 10, 2023)
Carnegie Hall, 154 West 57th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-247-7800 or visit http://www.carnegiehall.org
Running time: two hours and 30 minutes including one intermission